The Blue Jays will finally — finally — make their long-awaited return to playing baseball in Toronto on Friday.

They haven’t played in Rogers Centre since September 29, 2019, when they beat the Rays 8-3. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Jays played in Buffalo for the 2020 season and they’ve spent the first half of the 2021 season either at Dunedin (their spring training home) or in Buffalo (their Triple-A ballpark).

They are, as you can imagine, excited to get back home.

“It’s definitely been on everybody’s mind recently,” shortstop Bo Bichette told Sporting News in Denver during the All-Star festivities, as rumors of a potential return to Canada started to heat up. “Early in the year, no, not really. It’s something that we can’t control, so the more we focus on it, the more attention it takes away from the game and us performing at the best of our abilities. Lately, for sure.”

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The news of the Blue Jays’ return to Toronto was officially announced a few days after the All-Star events, a “national interest travel exemption” granted by the federal government.

“I think we owe it to the city to come back and play there,” Marcus Semien said in Denver, “and I’m hoping it’s in front of fans to have that energy for a second-half push.”

The Jays announced that 15,000 fans — about 30 percent capacity — will be allowed to attend games, and the roof will be open whenever possible, weather-wise. Other ventilation measures will be incorporated, too.

These Blue Jays return to Canada a much different team than the one that last played at the Rogers Centre. That long-ago win over the Rays finished Toronto’s season with a 67-95 record, as the rebuilding team with lots of young and unproven talent experienced growing pains. But the Jays made the playoffs in 2020 and they’re in the mix for a playoff spot again in 2021, with a 50-48 record heading into Thursday’s contest in Boston.

They’re 10 1/2 behind the Red Sox in the AL East, a formidable hill, but only 4 1/2 out of the AL’s second wild-card spot.

Momentum isn’t something you can manufacture out of thin air, of course, but the time feels right for the Blue Jays to make a major push, before the MLB trade deadline hits at 4 p.m. ET on Friday. Think about it: What better way to celebrate a return to Canada than by bringing back a few new faces to help with a playoff push?

“We want to win. I trust the front office,” Bichette told SN. “They’ve done a really good job so far putting together a group of young, great players on our team. We’ll continue to play hard, but it’s definitely exciting to think that we could become even better.”

This needs to happen, and not just because of the return to Toronto. This is a legitimately good team, with a few flaws that have kept them hovering around the .500 mark. Fix those flaws around players such as Semien, Bichette and fellow All-Stars Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez, and that’s a team capable of not just making the playoffs, but winning series in October.

The Jays did make a move on Thursday afternoon to shore up their bullpen, landing Brad Hand from the Nationals. But that’s not the type of splash worthy of a celebration of returning home. Think bigger.

We’ve seen how a blockbuster deal or two has positively impacted the Jays in the past. Remember the deal with the Padres in December 1990? The Jays sent Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to San Diego for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. That wasn’t a deadline deal, of course, but those two helped lead the Jays to World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

The deadline deals Jays fans remember happened at the right before the July 2015 deadline, when they traded for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. The Jays were 53-51 at the end of July, then went 40-18 the rest of the way, won the AL East and advanced to the ALCS. Not saying similar deals would have similar results, but the track record’s there.

Joey Gallo would have been ideal as a lefty slugger in a predominantly right-handed lineup, but he went to the Yankees, which hurts because the Jays are directly competing with the Yankees for a playoff spot. So what are their options?

Max Scherzer, SP

Why he fits: It’s not that the Blue Jays starters have been bad, but there is not a single team in baseball that wouldn’t immediately improve with the addition of the three-time Cy Young winner who’s still striking out hitters at a crazy rate even in his Age 37 season. Maybe that’s less likely seeing as how they just made a deal with the Nationals for Brad Hand, and they didn’t expand the deal to include Scherzer. Or, maybe, the Jays — like everyone else — wanted to see how Scherzer looked in Thursday’s start after he was scratched his last time out. It’s also worth noting that Scherzer has no-trade power, and might not be likely to waive that right for the Jays, who are currently on the outside looking in at October. It makes sense that he’d want to go to a team that is guaranteed to make the playoffs.

Jose Berrios, SP

Why he fits: Again, not an indictment on the Toronto rotation as much as a nod to how good Berrios is, and how he’d increase the Blue Jays’ playoff hopes. Unlike Scherzer, who will be a free agent after the season, Berrios has one more year of club control, and that’s appealing to the Jays, who will be contenders again in 2022 (and several years beyond that, with their outstanding core of young players). He would be expensive, in terms of players/prospects required, but he’s an elite starter who would be worth the cost.

Kris Bryant, 3B

Why he fits: He’s the best bat available on the market, and his versatility — he can be a starter at either corner infield or corner outfield position, and he can play center field, too — makes him appealing for pretty much every single contender.

For the Jays, though, his value would be at third base, where youngster Cavan Biggio has not developed as well as Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr., It might be a bit of a controversial move, because Biggio is seen as the club’s third baseman of the present and future, but Bryant would be an undeniable upgrade over Biggio, who has just seven homers, a .686 OPS and 0.2 bWAR this year (Bryant’s at 18, .861 and 2.2).

Craig Kimbrel, RP

Why he fits: The bullpen has not been very good in 2021, but it’s better now than at any point of the season. The Jays traded for Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards in separate deals a few weeks ago, and both have been solid. They just traded for Hand, who has 21 saves this year, as we mentioned. And Jordan Romano has been solid as the closer, with eight saves in nine opportunities. But add Kimbrel to the very back of the bullpen, with the way he’s been pitching this year — 0.49 ERA, 15.7 K/9 — and suddenly the bullpen becomes a strength. Kimbrel has a club option for 2022 that isn’t cheap, but it’s worthwhile if he’s pitching like this.

Source: https://www.sportingnews.com/us/mlb/news/blue-jays-should-celebrate-return-to-toronto-with-major-trade-upgrades-before-fridays-deadline/64rzbsfl3dch1wf4fjea5fyr8